"Overtime Shift" Chapter 3 By Thomas Stewart
I made it out into the hallway and stopped, checking the area. The hallway was silent now. I couldn’t see much, either, with the only light in the place being a few sparsely placed little red lights in a few isolated areas of the building.
This made my chest start pounding. I couldn’t see or hear anything. Nothing was wrong, except…
Except nothing was wrong.
Why was everyone running? What was the panic about five minutes ago? Was it something to do with the thing I’m after?
(What the hell was it that I was after anyway?)
I turned back toward the room for a second. I could turn back, right? Maybe Ronnie was right. He wouldn’t have to know I got scared, either, right? Yeah… Yeah, I could just go back, tell him I couldn’t walk very far-- something that wasn’t a complete lie, by the way-- and just wait for the--
My entire body seized up suddenly. Down the hall behind me, I thought I could hear the shuffling of someone or something moving. It was moving fast, whatever it was, scampering across the floor.
It sounded small, soft, like the paws of a cat or a… a mouse.
Slowly, my left eye began drifting off to the corner toward the hall behind me. I couldn’t see anything, but I wasn’t about to turn all the way around, either. I wanted to be able to just take off running at the first sign that something wasn’t right. I had to stay facing forward.
I could hear the shuffling get closer. Closer. Five feet, then four, then three…
Just keep facing forward.
Three feet became two. Then two and a half. I couldn’t see anything still.
One foot away now. I could even hear its breathing. It was hyper and exhausted. It wasn’t the squeaks of a mouse or anything, either.
It was a person.
He was right on top of me. I still couldn’t see him, but I thought I could feel his breath, stinging the nape of my neck. It was a lead weight on my neck.
I wanted to look at the thing, but at the same time, I didn’t. I had to be able to move forward. I had to be able to run.
I could feel it move even closer. Its breath was now burning the back of my neck. My legs shook. I wanted to run. I needed to run.
But I couldn’t.
I jumped then when I felt the weight of something heavy resting on my shoulder. “Easy there, trigger.”
That’s when I finally turned and saw Ronnie, standing there behind me. For a moment, my brain was blank. My mind was blank. I couldn’t tell if I was even alive anymore in a way. I was a crashed computer until five seconds later, where I went and exhaled. “Ronnie… Jesus, man, don’t sneak up on me like tha--”
I stopped, glancing out of the corner of my eye at the room again. It was dark and faint, but I thought I could see what looked like Ronnie’s body, laid out on the floor, face down, with what looked like a hole in his back. I frowned. I tried squinting my eyes, but it didn’t make anything in there any more clear.
Calm down, he’s right there, in front of you…
(How’d he get behind me so quick?)
He’s right there…
(Why’d he move so quick?)
“So where’re we headed?” he asked, looking down the hallway.
“Oh uh… Well, I uh…” I froze up again. All honesty, I hadn’t entirely figured that much out yet. I wasn’t sure where I meant to go before…
(What was that moving in the dark?)
“Let’s see if there’s anybody down here.” he said, gently nudging me on my shoulder to go down the hallway ahead. I remained standing where I was.
(I thought he wanted to wait in the room…)
He looked back at me. “Well? You comin’ or what?” I didn’t move. Something didn’t feel right about walking forward.
(Why’s he wanting to go down that hallway?)
I squinted at him. For a second, I thought it was just the light of the room. I thought I was just mistaking the light of the room for what looked like pitch black irises. Then I looked closer at him and thought I could see something black running from his eyes.
His eyes squinted. I couldn’t make it out, but I knew it wasn’t just the light. “What’s… What’s going on with your eyes, Ronnie?” He cocked his head. His neck twitched. “Ronnie…”
I took two steps back. He took a step forward, disjointed as hell. For a second, I thought he was about to stumble onto his face.
Then he took another step before I saw his skin starting to peel. I’m not kidding, I actually saw his skin starting to peel away from him like it was paper. Underneath was some sort of black amorphous, jelly looking mass. I had just enough time for my eyes to widen before this thing shot two long, slender, inky tendrils at me.
One of them just about gorred me, and it would’ve done it, because I just barely managed to skirt out of the way. I took off down the hallway. I didn’t look back. I didn’t need to, I could hear it scuttling around with those disgusting tentacles. I bolted deeper and deeper down the hallway.
The further I went, the darker the hall became. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t see even two fucking feet in front of me. I couldn’t stop though. This thing was right on my tail, I could hear it, banging around on the walls behind me.
I vaguely saw a tendril shoot out in front of me. Just up ahead of me, I could see another red light. A room!
It was only a few feet away. But there, in that moment, in that hallway, “a few feet” felt like almost 100 miles away. And that, my friend, would’ve proven to be my death sentence.
Either way, what choice did I have except to keep going? I had to get out of there. I had to make it out and tell the world about this and about what the headmaster is doing.
I almost made it out to the room when I felt something snag my ankle, causing me to faceplant into the floor. My vision exploded and my head felt light, but I had to keep going. I scrambled to find my feet again, but this thing had the hold of a damn noose around my ankle.
I clawed and clawed, trying to pull myself forward when I felt it began pulling me backward towards it. My nails dug into the steel plated flooring, but they didn’t do crap to hold me from being towed along. My fingertips felt like they were gonna snap like twigs before the thing gave a final jerk, yanking me the rest of the way through the air to it.
It was on top of me now, leering over me. I was defenseless against it. No weapons and no strength really to even stand, let alone fight it somehow.
I watched it sort of hunch over, leaning the top of its disgusting mass down to my face. That’s when time sort of just froze. I can’t really explain it, see, it was like seconds were hours, and at the same time even less than seconds, if that makes any sense at all. The thing’s top lurched over to the left, like it was cocking its head at me. At my left and right, out of the corners of my eyes, I could see two of its tendrils slither up toward me, twisting and writhing, eager to grab me, tear away at me, or God only knew what, really.
The whole time, I’m just laying there thinking this was it. This thing, this creature, this… whatever the fuck it was, was about to kill me in some gross fashion or another, and there’s not a goddamn thing I can do about it. My joints were stiff. Even my chest just barely managed to move up and down while staring at this thing.
The top of its mass twitched to the other side. The tendrils moved closer, still coiling. My chest started to twitch, my breaths now almost exclusively in shudders. The only things that still moved somewhat freely were my eyes, darting frantically all around the room for… well, for something.
The thing then did something that would’ve made me vomit right then and there, had my body not basically gone into shock. The top of its mass, still bearing down at me, staring at me, began wriggling and twisting itself like it was a mold of gelatin until I started noticing it shifting itself to form the contours of someone’s face.
I could feel my eyes sink into their sockets, trying themselves to get away from this nightmare. What in the unholy hell?!
When it was finished, the peak of its mass now resembled a human face. It wasn’t anyone I particularly recognized, not by name or anything, but it did remind me of one or two of the sewer rats. The reason I say this is because, when you see a group of those guys for long enough, you start to pick up on things like faces. Essentially, you’d be able to look at someone, even someone brand new to the facility or someone out of uniform, and you could confidently tell yourself “Yep, sewer rat”.
Well anyway, it formed one of their faces and continued to stare at me. At one point, I thought I could see the face start to sort of stretch or twist into an expression of sheer terror. Then, about a second or two later, I watched it stretch its mouth into a painfully wide smile. Then into a frown, before finally ending this fucked up little game of “man in the mirror” with a sullen looking expression.
It was around this point in time, too, that I started feeling something weird in my chest. It wasn’t my heart, that much I knew, but something else. Something weird and tingly. It felt like someone was poking the inside of my chest with a stick or something, trying to poke through it or something. It didn’t hurt, but instead, felt like something was just… I don’t know, wrong.
The thing moved its “head”, if you really wanna call it that, down to my chest, where the feeling started to get worse. The poking became agitated, transforming into pounding. Still, even this didn’t hurt, but there was now an intense sort of pressure just pushing out through my chest.
Finally, after about three to five minutes of this, the thing then started retracting back away from me. Its “face” reverted back into its original gelatinous form as well before slinking back and sort of slithering away from me. It was only about two seconds later, if that, before it was gone from sight completely.
I was alone in the hallway, lying face up on the floor there, wide eyed and slack jawed. The feeling in my chest changed, this time actually being my heart damn near bursting right out of my chest. I couldn’t believe it, I was alive!
I looked at my hands, and then at my legs. They were still fine. There weren’t any holes or even scratches on me, save for a light bruise around my ankle from where its tendril had me. I wanted to shout. I wanted to scream. I wanted to jump and shout and scream and laugh like a fuckin’ lunatic!
I WAS ALIVE!
(“But how? Why?”)
I started to try finding my feet again, only to realize I was still so weak. Now, on top of the general weakness in my arms and legs, there was now the weight of a brick of lead seeming to bear down on my stomach. I couldn’t lift my back off of the ground past an inch.
Suddenly, I started feeling extremely drowsy. This was a strange feeling, too, as my mind wasn’t tired-- far from it-- but it was like whatever this was, going on with me, was just… draining me.
Briefly, I remembered what Dr. Traxler said, about something inside me constantly dehydrating me somehow. I wondered if this and what’d just happened a second ago were somehow correlated. Before I could even start giving this any thought, though, I was out again like a busted light.
When I woke up this time, I was in a cell unit in the quarantine area. A cell unit, for those who aren’t Monolith employees, were these 46 x 50 sq ft plastic cells that you’d be put inside of in the event of an outbreak or exposure to a contagion. An easy way to remember them is to think of those little plastic bubbles you see in movies, the ones that look like hamster balls with people inside of them with all those tubes and shit coming out of them, and then make that a cube and far more claustrophobic.
For just a second after, I tried drifting back off to sleep. I didn’t want to wake up, not to this. Every Monolith employee, whether you were a tough as nails gorilla or a shrimpy, four-eyed lab rat, always had at least one nightmare about waking up in one of these things. And now, here I was; a waking nightmare.
The second that day, go figure…
The monitor at my right beeped steadily while an oxygen machine hummed beside it. My entire body was numb. A steel brick.
Great… I’m in a cell unit and I can’t even move…
My mouth felt so dry, too. Actually, thinking more on it, no, I wasn’t a steel brick, I was a corpse. A dried up, half preserved corpse.
I could move my head a bit, but that was it. Left to right around the room, that’s it. I tried to open my mouth, maybe try to call out for someone, you know?
Trying to do even that much was like trying to force a bear trap apart. So I laid there, using the seemingly endless amount of time I now had, in an empty, quiet cell unit, to actually start thinking about the situation from a second ago. Immediately, my mind went back to the earlier question of why did it just let me go like that?
It had me. Front and center. I couldn’t move. I was a stuck pig, a fuckin’ TV dinner, and this thing just decided to make faces at me and leave.
I wanted to move my hands across my chest again, remembering the odd feeling from that moment. What the hell was that also? Again, I knew it wasn’t a heart attack or anything. In a way, I knew it was something outside of my heart, something sort of…
Sort of crawling inside of me…
My heart was beating steadily, but make no mistake, I was panicking. Now, I didn’t know anything about this thing; what it was or how/what demon on this earth birthed it into existence and for what purpose, but I knew good and damn well that that thing, the thing that was two seconds from scheduling me an early appointment with the big man upstairs, was the thing that I was sent after, AND I’d seen firsthand its ability to take living hosts.
Of course, that didn’t mean it had me, right? I mean, I hadn’t been bitten or exposed to any sort of contagion or anything that would’ve transferred it to me…
My eyes slowly sank down to look at my nose. There, right on the top of the bridge of my nose, two little red dots, both of which were now inflamed, glared back at me. It hit me then.
That was it, the rat, it had to be. I didn’t start feeling weird until that rat attacked me. I remembered then the rat’s pitch black eyes and extreme hyper agility, as opposed to the regular beady-eyed bottom feeders you’d see anywhere else. That was it. I was screwed.
That rat had transferred this thing, this disgusting creature, into me and now, who knew how long I’d have before it just completely took over like it did with Ronnie and God only knew whoever else? I looked up at the ceiling. I wanted to cry.
Yeah, I said it. I, the big, tough gorilla, Jonah Weiss, wanted to bawl like a baby. You know what, I’m pretty sure any man would in my situation. Think about it, you’re sitting there, knowing you’re screwed; not even gonna die, but something even worse than that, and you just want to do something, anything to stop it, but you can’t. You can’t do jack shit except lay there and take it all up the ass.
I know that sounds crude, but if you think about it, it’s not inaccurate, is it? I was attacked, taken against my will, had a living thing put inside me against my will, and now I couldn’t even stop it from being born. There wasn’t anyone around to help me, and I couldn’t even open my mouth to try even calling for help either. Yeah, I’d say the imagery fits here.
What’s worse, thanks to this thing sucking me dry like I was a grape, my eyes couldn’t even form tears. I took my eyes away from the ceiling when I heard the sound of footsteps coming from the right of the unit. When I looked, who did I see but the smarmy, black-blooded judas priest himself; the headmaster, looking at me like the hamster I was.
“So… guess I was right and wrong, wasn’t I, Weiss?” He sounded amused when he asked this. My instincts then switched almost instantly from wanting to cry to wanting to slug the absolute shit out of him, knock that shit eating smirk off his face. He leaned in closer to the unit, cupping his ear.
“What, no words for yourself? No smartassy comment even?”
Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, how’s THAT, “Sir”?
He chuckled before starting to walk in a circle around the unit, keeping his grin on full blast. “Well, you found it, didn’t ya? But God forbid you should do it without fucking the whole operation up. Now look at yourself. Now your all hooked up and I’ve gotta keep you goin’ until we can find a way to get our specimen out of you.”
He stopped at the point behind me and asked, “Seriously man, what in the hell made you wanna do things like this? Hooked up on life support, having that thing inside ya? Jesus, if you wanted to be a volunteer for the human trials, all you had to do was ask. Hell, would’ve saved us from having to hassle with the maintenance crew.”
My eyes widened, though only barely. He kept walking and I stayed still, following him as much as I could with my eyes. That’s right, keep talking ya fuckin’ suit monkey. Tell me ALL about your master plan…
He laughed and continued with; “Hell, your little pal did. What’s his name again? Vanwhatsit?”
“Hhhaan-kow-shkiii!” I exclaimed, trying to sound tough, despite having no strength in my jaws.
“Right, him. Yeah, he decided to sign up for human trials a week ago.” He continued circling the cell. My eyes continued to follow him.
“Well, Weiss, I’ll hand this much to ya, thanks to you, we actually managed to find and capture the specimen and see its effects on the subjects in person, as well as figure out how it’s reproducing with the rats in the maintenance tunnels. I’ll admit, believe it or not, I was kind of hoping you’d actually get to stick around at the end of this…” He paused, smirking, and added, “Kinda liked having my own personal attack dog, and damn it, you always did do a great job at it.”
My fingers curled into a fist, tightly clenching the bedsheets. “But,” he continued, “at least this way, there isn’t gonna be anyone to go spouting any bullshit about “kidnapping” or nothin’.” He started to walk away.
“Haaaiih”. I groaned. He stopped and turned around, looking absolutely annoyed, like he always did, like he had over a million other things to do at that very second. “Haahhh ahouh hee?” He snickered.
“I’m sorry?” he asked. “Gonna have to speak up there, Weiss.”
“Whaahh ahooouuh…” I strained to force myself to pronounce the word “Me.”
He barked a bemused laugh and replied, “What about you? You’re screwed, Weiss, hate to tell ya. I mean, what am I supposed to do?” He shrugged and said, “What, you expect me to have a cure or something?” He shrugged again and said, “Sorry, pal. I ain’t got nothin’, and the Chem labs don’t either.”
He turned around and stared walking again back down the hall. Just before disappearing from both eye and earshot, I could hear him remark, chuckling, “Just make peace with the fact that you and you’re buddy’ll be reunited in Hell once it’s all over.”
Then he was gone and I was all alone again. All of that, taking the time out of his “busy” day, just to fucking taunt me. Yeah, sounds about right. Only one problem-- for him, that is…
The fucker opened his mouth and spilled everything to me.
And before you get cute and ask me “well yeah, but you’re a dead man soon anyway, plus he’s a government agent” blah, blah, blah, understand the fact that I knew this too. But what he DIDN’T know (or at least forgot about, which was entirely possible too with this guy), was that us gorillas were outfitted with both audio and video recording equipment in our metasuits. Their purpose was, of course, to make sure that, if something happened to one of us, something shady or unknown, they’d have some way of telling their story. Plus, if anything, the next of kin would know what happened to them as well, aside from “serving a valiant cause” or whatever.
Think of them as, essentially, dog tags with an added purpose. The best part, too, was the failsafe. See, knowing that if someone knew about the cameras, they’d want them destroyed, they linked all of the cameras to a single live feed, one that goes on and on, so long as the camera is still active and if it is destroyed, the footage will all be instantly saved to the database, where someone from the main hub can, if need be, upload it to the internet or to the military. Of course, the possibility that he could’ve known about this and actually done something about it was not lost on me. The only way I’d be able to find out is to find out myself from someone up front.
Problem: how the hell do I get there?
Solution: I don’t.
I started making a bit of noise like I was wheezing. I started forcing myself to cough. The E.K.G. monitor started slowing. What was before 250 beats per minute, very quickly turned into 100, then 95, and so on until finally, I lost consciousness as I could hear the steady beating of the monitor lulling me to sleep.
Now we wait…
If my plan worked, I knew I’d be woken up in only about another three or four minutes, when the quarantine staff (called “scrubbers”, by the way), would come to fetch my body for the incinerator. I could thank my old training partner for this little trick; learning how to slow my own heartbeat down to seemingly dangerous levels without the use of morphine or Tetradotoxin B or anything like that, all while still remaining alive and somewhat conscious of myself.
The only catch was that I couldn’t stay this way for too long. Think about it this way, this practice is a lot like trying to hold your breath underwater. With practice and endurance, you can stay that way for longer and longer periods of time with each time you go down. But of course, it ain’t like you actually grow gills here, you still gotta come up for air sometime. The same applied here. I’d practiced to be able to hold myself this way for a considerable amount of time, but I couldn’t exceed this time, not even by a minute longer.
The timer was ticking, and during this time, I had to just hope that A, someone was in the main hub, and B, that they’d actually follow protocal and come confirm that I was “dead”. Another thing about this is, you can’t have anything on your mind, or else you’d end up spiking your heart rate again and then all that time you spent getting to that point would’ve been pointless. I had to carry this through with a clear mind. So instead of anticipating the result or lack thereof, I decided to think about my home back in Arizona. I thought of it, of my girlfriend, who I intended to marry during my year and a half vacation that was going to go into effect next month, and of our lives together.
I thought of the beach house we’d planned on celebrating our honeymoon on, right by the shoreline, too. I could see her smiling face turn to look at me, putting her arm across my chest. She’d say to me in her smooth, sultry voice, “I love you so much, ya big dummy…”
“I love you too, Melissa…”
She’d then lean over, close her eyes, pucker her strawberry glazed lips and…
I felt the bed jerk. My eyes snapped open to find myself being pushed down the hallway. Without moving my head, I could see the back of one of the lab rats towing me down the hall. The corridor was dark, with the red bulbs hanging about two or three spaces apart from one another. In the distance, I thought I could hear emergency alarms. They were faint, but there, and somewhere in there I could hear the sound of chopper blades.
They were airlifting me. That was bad news for me. I’d completely forgotten about their little protocal about deceased employees. Normally, for deceased employees, that is, those who say, died on the job from an accident or something, they’d just transfer you to the morgue where they’d stick you in a freezer unit for a couple days until they could contact next of kin to see what they wanted to do with your body from there. For the ones they pull out of the cell units, though; “hazard-bearing” bodies, they don’t bother with any of that and instead just ship your ass straight to the incinerator.
I had hoped I’d have woke up before any of this would’ve taken place. My plan was to get ‘em to slap me in a freezer, where I’d then break out from there and escape through the back hatch where they dump the bodies that’d been there too long. Now I’d have to change plans.
I had to be careful, too. If I just sprang up and declared “Hey, I’m alive”, then I’d probably just get sent right back to the cell units, where I’d be stuck again. If I did nothing, then I’d be cooked, literally. There had to be an in-between, something that’d allow me to keep the facade while deterring them from incinerating me. But what?
I was about halfway down the hall now. Ahead of me, I could hear voices shouting to “Hurry up, we gotta get these guys outta here!” The bed started whizzing through the room quicker and quicker.
In the heat of the moment, the idea hit me. I started thrashing up and down, seizing and convulsing. If they were aware at all of why I was in the cell unit, then they’d be aware of the fact that there was something inside me, and might think it was coming out, you know? About two or three seconds later, the bed stopped. The guy came over and started shaking me.
“Jimmy, I think he’s alive!” I think I heard him say. Everything appeared so muffled to me, likely due to the excitement and/or panic. I could hear bootsteps come stomping down the hallway.
“He started doing this, what do we--”
“We hurry the hell up, that’s what.” replied the other, a man with a voice I almost swore was James Earle Jones.
“What if he’s still alive, though?” asked the first.
“Look, you heard the headmaster, didn’t you? Anyone exposed to the exorganism have to be taken to the cryo labs for preservation and extraction.”
My eyes damn near shot open when I heard this. Hell, it was everything I could do not to jump up and bolt out of there. The cryo labs? Preservation and extraction?
Why the hell wasn’t he going to have me and the thing incinerated? The place is falling apart, in the middle of a goddamn outbreak and the headmaster’s talking about “preservation”? He already said he’d seen what he needed to, thanks to me and the poor bastards from maintenance, so what would it matter if he kept them preserved, except maybe…
My heart stopped then. I mean actually stopped, too. Like, I actually couldn’t even breathe for almost five seconds.
They’re going to release it!
TO BE CONTINUED...